The "Worst Possible Public Policy" Comes To Westchester County

The editors of the New York Times must have read my piece about "affordable housing" on Friday, because as if on cue they come out with a lead editorial on Saturday excoriating Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino for resisting the expansion of subsidized housing in his jurisdiction.  Their editorial is titled "Westchester's Tortured Road."  

As usual with Pravda, you scratch your head wondering if they have been taken in by the fraud of the government bureaucrats, or if they are actually part of the fraud.  In this case, it's hard to believe that they are part of the fraud, because what benefit does the New York Times get from the subsidized housing game, which is to provide lifetime sinecures to bureaucrats while those bureaucrats imprison the poor in a lifetime of poverty?  That leaves as the only alternative that the editors of Pravda have been taken in, which in turn means that they are incapable of getting outside of their cushy offices and walking a few blocks to the vast public housing tracts located on the West Side of Manhattan to observe those islands of permanent poverty, not to mention racial segregation, plunked into the middle of the richest county in the country.  And did I mention that those Manhattan projects are in the process of a maintenance crisis and financial collapse of a classic socialist death spiral?

So let's force Westchester down the same path!  What is the thought process that could lead someone to advocate expanding New York City's disastrous subsidized housing policies beyond the City limits?  The gist of the Pravda editorial is "fairness" and "opportunity" -- things you could only believe about subsidized housing if you just flatly refuse to observe it with your own eyes.  Here is a key quote:

The county [Westchester] entered into a consent decree in 2009 to build at least 750 units of affordable housing and work to remove the barriers to fair housing that in many villages and towns function as invisible “Whites Only” signs. Its obligations are straightforward and — given the bad behavior that gave rise to the court order — eminently fair. 

On the other hand, I must say that the opponents of subsidized housing seem to have their own messaging problem.  As to Astorino, I can't find him speaking out much at all on the subject.  But Pravda characterizes the debate as "fairness" and "opportunity" on one side, and "privilege" on the other.  If those were actually the real issues, I myself would be a supporter of subsidized housing.  And plenty of opponents of subsidized housing fall into the trap of couching their position in terms that sound very much like "privilege."  For example, the article from The Hill that I linked on Friday quoted extensively from a Congressman named Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona:

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) . . . argued that the administration “shouldn’t be holding hostage grant monies aimed at community improvement based on its unrealistic utopian ideas of what every community should resemble.  American citizens and communities should be free to choose where they would like to live and not be subject to federal neighborhood engineering at the behest of an overreaching federal government,” said Gosar.

Sorry, Paul, but this argument sounds like "we should be able to keep out anyone we don't like."  It's not just that that's not going to persuade anyone.  More important is that it misses the point, which is that subsidized housing is a disastrous public policy on every front.  It's a disaster for every reason that socialism is a disaster.  It does not help the intended beneficiaries but instead imprisons them, and the projects themselves inevitably go into socialist death spiral.  And thus in the subsidized housing in New York we find:

  • The cost of subsidized housing is huge on a per beneficiary basis, and therefore it can only be provided to a relatively tiny number of people.
  • The huge expense does not count in the income of the beneficiaries.  They remain poor.
  • The asset provided to the beneficiaries, despite its immense cost, cannot be used by the beneficiaries to help extricate themselves from poverty, because it is completely illiquid, and cannot be sold, sublet, mortgaged, etc.
  • The supposed benefit of a subsidized housing unit comes attached to poisonous incentives, including making it much more difficult to move for a job (or a better job), together with income restrictions that strongly discourage getting ahead.
  • Rents inevitably fail to cover operating expenses, making the projects dependent on subsidies that must ever increase.  It's only a question of time until the units fall into disrepair.  The taxpayer expense increases with every passing year.  No money is available for capital improvements -- even if the project is located in a fancy area where market values would immediately support private renovation at no taxpayer expense.
  • The only way the residents can take advantage of their "good fortune" is to remain in the subsidized unit for life and not increase their visible income too much.  The projects become permanent concentrations of poverty and racial segregation.

So, Mr. Astorino, stand up for your position!  The poor need the incentives of capitalism to extricate themselves from their position.  Stand up for them against these predatory federal bureaucrats!